Are we getting too carried away with all the digital networking hype?

Even the most digitally savvy need face-to-face networking events
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Andrew Keen, a noted author and speaker on all things digital, doesn't see digital social networking as the revolutionary force many people are making it out to be.

It simply is serving as a conduit for old-fashioned, face-to-face physical networking -- which is where the real value is, always was, and always will be.

Keen will be a speaker at this year's Supernova, an annual event that explores opportunities in the emerging digital economy. In an interview over at the Supernova site, Keen, author of Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is Killing Our Culture, says analysts and commentators have become too carried away with the digital social network phenomenon, acting as if people had never networked on a widespread scale before. "There have always been networks," he says. "I think one of the problems with some of the ways the language is used by the evangelists of networks -- assuming that early 21st century technologists from California have discovered networks. But networks have always existed."

While millions now use social networks such as Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis, Keen is not convinced that there is real value in these digital environments.  "I’m not convinced people are behaving differently," he says. "Perhaps they think that they're behaving differently. But the all important networks are still the physical networks."

To illustrate his point, Keen says he recently attended a face-to-face event, a digital networking conference, attended by many of the industry's leading luminaries and businesspeople. "People got together to network with each other and talk about the digital network," he chuckled. The value they gained was from their face-to-face interaction -- not their digital connections, he said.

"The real value will continue to be in the physical network -- live conferences, live music events, anything live has value in the digital economy," he says. "One of the great ironies of the digital revolution is that it actually reduces the value of digital to zero. What we're seeing and what we will see increasingly is the real value of the live network."

Though he is well networked himself, and makes a living as an analyst of the digital networking realm, Keen took a swipe at the digital networking community, speculating that there's an effort underway to try to replace face-to-face interactions with digitized ones: "Many of the technologists on these networks are socially dysfunctional -- they don't know how to  look people in the eye. They fail to make the physical connection -- they have these tens of thousands of followers, but they fail to make the deal."

Wringing value out of digital social networks is almost an impossible feat at this time, Keen says. There still needs to be a mediation layer -- managed by people -- to help sift through the piles of mainly useless data produced on a daily basis. "At the moment, it's completely chaotic, anarchistic," he said.

"You can't learn anything from Twitter --it's not curated, its not mediated. The raw real-time data that’s being spewed out of Twitter hasn’t any value. Its just raw. It needs layers, it needs gatekeepers. The idea that we have the time to trawl through hundreds of thousands of Tweets every hour is absurd."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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